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Barrel Racing Gives You Wings!

"Wings", "Panels", or the "Holding Pen". This is an area that many of our arenas and producers use. Most races in the Pacific Northwest don't have a long alleyway that you run through; instead, we have "wings" that allow us to circle our horses before we send them into the pattern, and to circle as we complete our runs.

Two days ago, Kalena Webb posted a video of her run where after she's crossed the eye, and entered the holding pen, another contestant was in her path of travel - causing a small wreck and potentially injuring horses. As I'm writing this, the video posted on Facebook has over 31,000 views.

As a contestant, I've been that person yelling "heads up!" as I'm crossing the timer - I know where my horse is headed, and he's aiming for the gate that you're standing in front of. I've also been the person that will not start my approach until the previous contestant is out of the way - we pay the same entry fee amount, and are deserving of the same fair shot and opportunity as our fellow contestants.

There's debate on how 'unsafe' it is to have wings/panels; from the producer standpoint, using wings makes a huge difference in how many contestants we can run an hour. It makes for a long day when we have alley-fighting horses that we wait on, or if it's a longer alleyway, sometimes that flat-footed walk-up takes longer than the run itself. Truthfully, it's the people-factor that leans toward unsafe.

Here are a few of the concerning behaviors that I've observed in the last few months, and my call-to-action for all of you. It is not my intention to point fingers, but I will always advocate for making our sport safer.

  • More than 5 horses in the holding pen at a time

    • This is concerning with the size of most holding pens in our area. If you aren't in the current drag of 5 contestants, you should not be in the holding pen. There is ample time during the drag to safely enter and exit the holding pen area.

  • Choosing to stand in the alleyway/stopping area while others are running

    • You are in the start/stop area during someone else's paid run. During a time only/exhibition or in the middle of the class - the arena belongs to the contestant that is competing in that moment. Respect them, their entry, their horse, and their time.

  • Dismounting/quitting your horse while there are contestants running or waiting to compete

    • This is a huge safety issue - being on foot in the holding pen area is dangerous for all involved. Understandably, sometimes exceptions need to be made to lead a horse in, or to help a younger or a novice rider out. Clear out immediately, or move to the front of the holding pen. Do not linger.

    • Note: I am an advocate for quitting your horse appropriately. This means during a drag (so you aren't interfering with a run, or stopping the flow of a race), and ideally to the side.

  • Ignoring an Announcer or Producer who has asked all contestants to move to the front of the holding pen.

    • These folks genuinely care about your and your horses' well-being. Often, they can see things from their vantage point that you cannot.

  • Being upset with a contestant who is starting/ending their run when you've chosen to stand in an unsafe location, or being upset when someone asks for their path to be cleared.

    • Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. I can safely assume that every contestant would like the same level of fairness and opportunity. There are appropriate ways to ask, and to handle these situations - please do not use this as a reason to be unkind to each other.

Lastly, as contestants - if you see something, say something! Talk to your producers, and share your concerns. We want what is best for our contestants and their equine partners.

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